Why You Need A Porch Swing
A porch swing isn't just a piece of furniture, it's a state of mind. Hop on, sway for a bit, and you're transported to a stress-free zone. Just ask Suzanne Henninger, who owns a weekend cottage in Seaside, Florida, where the front porch features a swing painted a cool blue. “I get my cup of coffee and head there first thing in the morning,” says this health-care company vice president. “I listen to the birds, smell the ocean air, and slowly rock. It's heaven.”
Even the simplest porch swing offers a taste of gracious living, perhaps because it's a reminder of more genteel times. Such swings became popular in the mid-1800s, an era known for houses with wraparound porches, when Americans began enjoying more leisure time. They were particularly favored in the sultry South, where they provided a much-appreciated artificial breeze.
While metal and wicker versions are available, most porch swings today are wooden, made from teak, cedar, pine, maple, or oak. Seeing a beautiful antique swing in Newport, Rhode Island, led This Old House master carpenter Norm Abram to craft his own, out of plantation teak. “Teak is very strong as well as rot resistant, so it can hold up to the outdoor environment. And it weathers beautifully,” says Norm, whose design was inspired by a classic English garden bench. Indeed, swings made of teak ($500 to $1,000) or cedar ($250 to $400) are meant to weather in the elements, turning silvery or dark gray. Some homeowners may prefer a painted swing, either crisp white or a color that complements their porch or exterior trim. In that case, a less expensive pine, oak, or maple swing ($150 to $400) can be coated with exterior trim paint or high-gloss porch enamel to suit.
For the most part, swing seats come 4 or 5 feet long; they may be contoured or flat. Seat depth varies widely, from 18 to 36 inches. The porch swing Norm built measures 4 feet long and has a seat that is 18 inches deep, dimensions he finds just right. Since comfort comes down to personal preference, it's a good idea to test-drive a swing before you buy.
Style differences emerge mainly in the swing's back: It may be squared off or curved, and constructed with horizontal or vertical slats, which may be set close together or spaced wide apart. While the peaked back of an Adirondack-style might seem more appropriate for the porch of a clapboard cottage than a brick Georgian, most swings can adapt to their architectural surroundings with the addition or omission of fabric-covered cushions.
Whatever way a porch swing is personalized, its appeal remains universal. When Suzanne Henninger bought her cottage four years ago, “the swing was the very first thing I added,” she says. “When friends come to visit me, they rock on that swing, then go home and buy one. It's contagious.”
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